by Morak Babajide-Alabi
“To hate, to love, to think, to feel, to see, all this is nothing but to perceive,” by David Hume.
I shifted on the sofa, stretched out my legs and adjusted my head to allow a clear breathing passage. I have a few more minutes to waste before I start the arduous work. Nigeria has been on my mind for quite some time, and I thought to myself it was time to visit the motherland. I am always excited about the probability of going to Nigeria. This is not only for the opportunity to meet long-time family members and friends but also to catch up with new developments.
So on this day, the thoughts came strongly to me as I sat in my lounge. I stared at the laptop in the corner and there was a strong urge to grab it and search for a cheap ticket. This, I recognised, was the hard work. I narrowed my eyes for a moment. I needed taking in the excitement and the expectations of the journey. It would be several weeks of preparations, purchases, packing of bags and setting priorities. I sighed as I reflected on how I would be able to squeeze these into my day to day tasks. Not to worry, I thought to myself, I would be waking up with renewed spring in my steps looking forward to the trip.
The many positive stories I have heard about Nigeria in recent times galvanised me to desperately want this trip. I need seeing for myself. I narrowed my eyes for a moment as I placed my right fist under my chin to discover a more comfortable position for my head. I needed this “wee” me time before I reached for the laptop to start the search for the “cheap” return ticket. So I allowed my thoughts to go wild as I slipped into a “controlled unconsciousness.” The type we experience when we crawl into beds in the night.
”Do you have anything to declare, sir?” a distinct ear-pleasing feminine voice revived me. ”No,” I replied. ”Please follow this other queue,” she said as she signalled me in the appropriate direction. ”Thank you,” I said and moved on. I looked around me as the queue progressed. I grabbed my trolley and pushed on in an attempt to catch up with the last individual on the queue. Earlier on I had noticed the staffs at the immigration counters were polite and business-like. An officer professionally attended to me and greeted me with a cheerful smile. He said, “have a nice stay.” Hate was far off on his mind.
I smiled to myself as I recollected how my friend tried to persuade me everything has changed from what I had experienced before. No matter how much I attempted to suggest to her that the many negative stories about my destination were “uncheery,” she was unperturbed. “It is all hate,” she insisted. Her praise of the progress and developments made in the space of five years was very convincing. She was adamant the negative stories on social media were planted and sponsored by opposition parties. She argued that despite the “seeable” achievements of the present administration, the opposition leaders remain blind they could barely see beyond their noses. Hate has made them not to see any good thing.
This was not the first time I have heard this. In fact, it has become a trend every time I discuss with sympathisers of the current government. What surprises me is that they struggle to point to any meaningful development. More willingly, they concentrate their energy on educating me of the fact that “haters” of the government are habitually out to discredit the splendid works.
As I walked towards the exit of the airport, I experienced a little bit of shame for doubting all the “hailers.” There is no need for any extra convincing that the era of change had indeed come. I looked around again; the paints on the walls were sparkling while the floor was glistering, as if polished. “There is something unusual about this place,” I muttered under my breath. The Arrival Hall was devoid of the usual buying and selling atmosphere that was commonplace there. There were no black-market operators or the ever-present SIM card sellers or cab drivers that delight in hustling travellers out of their money.
I was taken aback when I stepped outside the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. The brightness of the street lights shocked me as I walked towards the taxi rank. There was no hustling or hassling from the usual touts at the airport. I could not resist admiring the serenity of the airport as the driver pulled out towards the city centre. “This is unbelievable,” I said to myself. But the driver picked it and replied in a deep eastern accent: “Everything has changed. We are immensely enjoying these ‘change’ leaders.” I nodded in agreement with him as we sped off towards the flyover.
The journey was remarkably smooth. No potholes and no street or traffic light ‘misbehaved’. As we descended the flyover, I looked in the direction of the popular Aswani Market/Iyana Isolo. The whole stretch was properly lit and you could easily mistake it was daytime. I smiled to myself as I recollected how risky it was for me to walk the few metres from the Rutam House to Toyota Bus Stop after the close of work in years gone by. A few colleagues were robbed there.
I could see people walking “carelessly” on the streets. I noticed nice public transport buses pull in and out of the well-constructed bus stops. The commuters stepped aboard and disembarked with ease. There were no pushes or shuffles thereby making it difficult for pickpockets to operate viable businesses.
In the corner of my eyes, I spotted a few police cars, vans and officers casually patrolling the streets. They were immaculately dressed and surprisingly interacting with members of the public. I smiled and said, “Indeed, the police is your friend.” There was no room for hate. I looked to the left where a fire engine and an ambulance were stationed. I was extremely overcome.
I shook my head repeatedly to erase the picture of poverty, terrible roads, break down of social infrastructure, and many negatives I had been exposed to on social media. The reality on the ground was altogether different from what was painted on WhatsApp groups and various forums. I cautioned myself that maybe I was a bit hasty in my conclusion. I looked out of the window again and reassured myself that ”indeed change has come.” Why is there so much hate on social media? Why couldn’t all citizens just raise their hands and praise the government, the various agencies, lawmakers and political appointees for the good works they are doing?
I couldn’t wait to find answers to these questions. Suddenly I felt the longing to get to my host — my cousin — to discuss these and how proud I was of the developments I witnessed. In the past, driving to his upper-class estate at the outskirt of the city would have been quite a journey. We would have picked our way through slow-moving traffic with car headlights been the sources of lights to houses around the major motorway. Everywhere would be in darkness while we held on to our bibles praying no brain dead armed robber came our ways. The sigh of relief at the entrance to my cousin’s estate was always loud and uncontrolled.
Things were different on this trip. Electricity was no longer a preserve of just a few people. It was free to all. There were no noises or black smoke from various sizes of electricity generators. Everywhere was lit. There was also an orderliness that was very calming. Change is for real. Hate is unreal.
To be continued next week.
As written for the Diaspora Matters Column, Sunday Vanguard, December 1, 2019.